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Meet A History Saver: Donny Lowe

As HistoryIT celebrates its 10th Anniversary in 2021, we want to take the time to share how amazing our team of history savers is. In this monthly blog series, you’ll get to know each member of our organization who makes HistoryIT’s history-saving work possible, continuing with CTO Donny Lowe.

1. In your role at HistoryIT, what does a typical day look like?

One of the things I love about working at HistoryIT is that there really is no typical day. That being said, there are common elements to each day. I’m generally juggling software development management (bug reports, testing, resource management, cloud infrastructure, long-term planning, etc.), internal IT infrastructure, managing our hardware and mobile app efforts, keeping websites up to date, and building and testing out exciting new products that we are developing for our Greek clients.

2. Why is it important to digitally preserve our history?

Our history is at risk every day. Each day that goes by, we lose more and more of our physical history. The other issue we face is the monumental amount of born digital history that we are creating every day. Most people and organizations have no plan for how to handle the management of born digital material. In both cases, history will be lost if we don’t address these issues now.

3. In celebration of HistoryIT’s 10th Anniversary, what is one of your favorite projects you’ve worked on?

By far, my favorite project is our Odyssey Preservation System. We have created a true digital preservation management system that supports customers across the spectrum. The system can be used by users ranging from the untrained family archivist to the trained librarians and archivists serving our cultural heritage institutions.

4. What’s one history mystery you would like to solve?

I’m a sci-fi nerd, so anything involving technology that seems out of place instantly interests me. I would love to know why there was a gap of almost a millennium between the creation of the Antikythera mechanism and other similarly geared mechanisms that appeared again in medieval times. It fascinates me that an analog computer was built around 100 BCE.

5. How do you stay up to date on the latest history saving trends in technology?

It’s easy to pigeonhole yourself into the application of technology in one sector, but I think broadening your perspective to see how technology is solving issues across a multitude of disciplines is the best way to keep up. New technology is being introduced daily, and my job is to make sure that we aren’t implementing technology for the sake of technology, but that we are implementing new technology to solve the issues our clients face.

6. What about history inspires you?

I used to have this theory that there were two main ways people related to history. The first way was that people would be transported back in time and would experience history as if they were standing there in that moment. I saw this time and time again in my tenure at the Baseball Hall of Fame. Grown men would come in, hold their favorite player’s bat, and then break down crying as they experienced or relived that moment.

The second way was that people would only experience what was presented to them and could not experience being transported back to a moment. What I learned, though, is that anyone can have this experience. History is so powerful that even if a person isn’t interested in the particular topic shared, if you can relate that topic to them through the lens of history that they are interested in, everyone can have that moment of being transported back.

Again, I saw this happen at the Hall when families would come in. Many wouldn’t be interested in baseball, but as soon as you opened their eyes to the fact that baseball mirrored and, in some ways, led the way for changes in American culture that impacted our history, the lightbulb ALWAYS went on and they had that visceral experience.

7. If you were to look back on this interview in 10 years, what do you hope your future self will know about history?

In my opinion, we live in a culture that depends on the interpretation of history to facilitate our own confirmation bias. It’s my hope that our work will ensure that primary source historic materials are properly preserved, so that in 10 years when people look back with more perspective, they can do their own research and come to conclusions that weren’t created for them.

8. Who will play you when they make a movie about the making of a HistoryIT?

I’m not sure I have much say in this because as soon as Ed Snowden made the news, everyone started saying I should play him in his movie, and he should play me in my movie. There is some resemblance, I can’t deny that. Or maybe I am Ed Snowden hiding out at HistoryIT.

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